*** (3 stars out of 5)
O.K., so it had some design flaws: it was so damn powerful it was a danger to itself. It spits sparks and obsidian shards at the bridge crew when under attack, but if visually dramatic explosions are a design flaw, it's one that Starfleet never corrects. Defiant has no room for families, and no truck with personal relaxation lights. Its replicators are bitter (taste-wise and emotionally), and it's anyone's guess whether it has any toilets.
The cloaking device came on loan from the Romulans with a free Subcommander T'Rul whose purpose in life is not letting humans near the cloaking device. (While I'm on the subject of cloaking devices, isn't the penalty for owning one 50 years hard labour on Bajor? And isn't the head of Bajor's church eager to take Sisko down? I hope no one says anything that might get back to the most powerful woman on the planet...)
Speaking of distrust and losing your job, Odo is (probably rightly) disgruntled when Starfleet gives the Starfleet part of security to Lt. Commander Michael Eddington. Way to make friends of your only shapeshifter, Starfleet!
Defiant is going on a mission to peacefully contact the Founders of The Dominion, and Sisko uses the staff of the Nagus to make Quark go along as their 'ambassador'. He makes Odo go along as that pissed-off unemployed guy you need to bark at Quark.
Defiant sneaks invisibly past the purple scarab ships of the Jem'Hadar. Quark's Karammen business contact Ornithar (Second-Last of the Ornithanthropes, I believe) knows nothing whatever about the Founders, but when bullied offers the name of his superiors: the Vorta. While looking for Vorta, Odo recognizes a place he's never been: the Omarion Nebula.
He gets the chance to check it out when Jem'Hadar board Defiant. Without waiting to see if anyone else lived or died, Odo drags Kira along in a shuttle on his obsessive search. They turn up a rogue planet with no sun that somehow has enough warmth and air for Kira. Despite everything that's wrong with science in that previous sentence, he also finds an ocean of Odos. They welcome him home.
"The Search, Part I" is Deep Space's third season opener, and apart from Dax's new hair it's not terrible. Producer Berman, keeper of the Roddenberry flame, didn't want Starfleeters to use a cloaking device since Gene had been adamant that these people didn't sneak around. Writers Behr and Wolfe seem to have shouted him down by making "p-choo! p-choo!" laser noises. Which, come to think about it, is also my attitude. It's easy to end THAT debate with: 'we have to be underhanded to stay alive' and it's only partly that we're boys spoiling for a rumble with our latest explosive toys.